Jonah 1:1-3. Now the word of the LORD came unto Jonah the son of Amittai, saying, Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and cry against it; for their wickedness is come up before me. But Jonah rose up to flee unto Tarshish from the presence of the LORD, and went down to Joppa; and he found a ship going to Tarshish: so he paid the fare thereof, and went down into it, to go with them unto Tarshish from the presence of the LORD.
Observe the misconduct of the prophet Jonah. He had a plain command from the Lord, and he knew it to be a command; but he felt that the commission given to him would not be pleasant and honouring to himself, and therefore he declined to comply with it. We see, from his action, how some, who really know God, may act as if they knew him not. Jonah knew that God was everywhere, yet he “rose up to flee unto Tarshish from the presence of the Lord.” What strange inconsistencies there often are even in good men! Here is one, who is favoured with a divine commission, — one who knows God, and fears him; yet, for all that, he ventures on the fool’s errand of endeavouring to escape from the Omnipresent. He “went down to Joppa,” which was the port of his country, “and he found a ship going to Tarshish.” Learn from this that providence alone is not a sufficient guide for our actions. He may have said, “It was very singular that there was a ship there going to Tarshish, just when I reached the port. I gather from this that God was not so very disinclined for me to go to Tarshish.” Precepts, not providences, are to guide believers; and when Christian men quote a providence against a precept, — which is to set God against God, — they act most strangely. There are devil’s providences as well as divine providences, and there are tempting providences as well as assisting providences, so learn to judge between the one and the other.
Jonah 1:4. But the LORD sent out a great wind into the sea, and there was a mighty tempest in the sea, so that the ship was like to be broken.
Learn, hence, that “Omnipotence has servants everywhere.” The Lord is never short of sheriff’s officers to arrest his fugitives, and on that occasion he “sent out a great wind into the sea.” “The wind bloweth where it listeth.” That is true, but it is also true that the wind bloweth where God listeth, and he knew how to send that great wind to the particular ship. No doubt many ships were on the Mediterranean at that time; but, possibly, unto none of them was the storm sent save unto the one which carried Jonah son of Amittai. We say, “Every bullet has its billet,” and this great wind was sent to pursue the fugitive prophet.
Jonah 1:5. Then the mariners were afraid, and cried every man unto his god, —
If there is ever a special time for prayer, it is a time of need. Nature seems then to compel men to utter prayer of such a sort as it is, for it is but nature’s prayer at the best: “The mariners were afraid, and cried every man unto his god,” —
Jonah 1:5. And cast forth the wares that were in the ship into the sea, to lighten it of them.
Life is precious, and a man will give up everything else in order to save it.
Satan spoke the truth when he said, “Skin for skin, yea, all that a man hath, will he give for his life.” From the action of these mariners, we may learn that sometimes we may lighten our ship for the safety of our souls. When we have less to carry, probably we shall sail more safely. Losses and crosses may turn out to be our greatest gains. Let the ill-gotten ingots go to the bottom of the sea; and lo, the ship rights herself at once!
Jonah 1:5. But Jonah was gone down into the sides of the ship; and he lay, and was fast asleep.
The greatest sinner on that ship appeared to be the least concerned about the storm which had come because of him, he did not even seem to know that there was a storm, for he had “gone down into the sides of the ship; and he lay, and was fast asleep.”
Jonah 1:6. So the ship-master came to him, and said unto him, What meanest thou, O sleeper? arise, call upon thy God, if so be that God will think upon us, that we perish not.
It is hard when sinners have to rebuke saints, and when an uncircumcised Gentile can address a prophet of God in language like this.
Jonah 1:7. And they said every one to his fellow, Come and let us cast lots, that we may know for whose cause this evil is upon us. So they cast lots, and the lot fell upon Jonah.
We commend not the action of these men in casting lots, but we admire the providence by which is the lot fell upon Jonah. Solomon says, “The lot is cast into the lap,” but he did not say that it was right that lots should be cast into the lap; and he very properly added, “but the whole disposing thereof is of the Lord.”
Jonah 1:8. Then they said unto him, Tell us, we pray thee, for whose cause this evil is upon us, What is thine occupation? and whence comest thou? what is thy country? and of what people art thou?
I do not know whether these men had traded with those who then lived in these islands, but they had a very English custom of not judging a man before they had heard him speak. It would be well if we all practised it more, — so that, before we condemn men, we were willing to hear their side of the question. Considering that there was such a storm raging, the questions put to Jonah were remarkably calm. They were very comprehensive, and went to the very root of the matter.
Jonah 1:9. And he said unto them, I am an Hebrew:
That let them know whence he came, and what his country was.
Jonah 1:9. And I fear the LORD, the God of heaven, which hath made the sea and the dry land.
That, I suppose, must be regarded as his occupation; and what a blessed occupation it is, — to be occupied with the fear of the Lord! So, you see that, though Jonah was not properly following his occupation while he was on board that ship, yet he did not hesitate to avow, “I am a Hebrew; and I fear the Lord, the God of heaven, which hath made the sea and the dry land.” The child of God, even when he gets where he ought not to be, if you test him and try him, will stand to his colours. He will confess that he is, after all, a servant of the living God.
Jonah 1:10. Then were the men exceedingly afraid, and said unto him, Why hast thou done this?
Jonah had to go through this catechism, question after question, and this was the hardest of them all: “Why hast thou done this?” Could you, dear friend, submit every action of your life to this test? “Why hast thou done this?” I am afraid that there are some actions, which we have performed, for which we could not give a reason, or the reasons for which we should not like to give to our fellow men, much less to our God.
Jonah 1:10-11. For the men knew that he fled from the presence of the LORD, because he had told them. Then said they unto him, What shall we do unto thee, that the sea may be calm unto us?
Here is another question; the catechism is not yet finished, and this is one of the most difficult of all.
Jonah 1:11-12. For the sea wrought, and was tempestuous. And he said unto them, Take me up, and cast me forth into the sea; so shall the sea be calm unto you:
Notwithstanding all his faults, Jonah was an eminent type of Christ. We know that from our Lord’s own words, for he was as long in the belly of the whale as Christ was in the heart of the earth. Here he seems to be a type of our Saviour: “Take me up, and cast me forth into the sea: so shall the sea be calm unto you:”
Jonah 1:12-13. For I know that for my sake this great tempest is upon you. Nevertheless the men rowed hard to bring it to the land;
They showed a deal of good feeling in all their treatment of Jonah. They could not bear to take away a fellow-creature’s life, so they pulled and tugged in order to get the ship to land.
Jonah 1:13. But they could not: for the sea wrought, and was tempestuous against them.
Their safety lay in the sacrifice, — not in the labour. They rowed hard to bring the ship to land, but their efforts were of no avail. If they would cast Jonah overboard, then they would be safe.
Jonah 1:14-15. Wherefore they cried unto the LORD, and said, We beseech thee, O LORD, we beseech thee, let us not perish for this man’s life, and lay not upon us innocent blood: for thou, O LORD, hast done as it pleased thee. So they took up Jonah, —
Put the emphasis on the first word, “So they took up Jonah”; that is, with great reluctance, with much pity and sorrow, not daring to do such a deed as that wantonly and with a light heart. When men do deeds like this, on a far greater scale, and go to war with a light heart, they will have a heavy heart before long. If ever you have to cast a brother out of the Church, —if ever you have to relinquish the friendship of any man, — do it as these men did with Jonah, patiently, and carefully. Investigate the matter, and do not act until you are driven to it after consulting the Lord.
Jonah 1:15-16. And cast him forth into the sea: and the sea ceased from her raging. Then the men feared the LORD exceedingly, and offered a sacrifice unto the LORD, and made vows.
Jonah had been the means of causing a greater change than he expected. His conduct and punishment had been a warning to those thoughtless sailors. They could not but believe in the God who had thus followed up his fugitive servant.
Jonah 1:17. Now the LORD had prepared a great fish to swallow up Jonah.
He prepared a storm, he prepared a fish and we afterwards read that he prepared a gourd, and he prepared a worm. In the great things of life, and in the little things, God is ever present. The swimming of a great fish in the sea is, surely, not a thing that is subject to law. If ever there is free agency in this world, it must certainly be in the wanderings of such a huge creature that follows its own instincts, and ploughs its way through the great wastes of the wide and open sea. Yes, that is true; yet there is a divine predestination concerning all its movements. Over every motion of the fin of every minnow predestination presides. There is no distinction of little or great in God’s sight, he that wings an angel guides a sparrow. “The Lord had prepared a great fish to swallow up Jonah.”
Jonah 1:17. And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.
So round about the truant prophet was the preventing grace of Jehovah.